Thursday, May 15, 2014

Who Does Your Brand Talk to in Social Media?

Recently, I was guilty of what many of us are doing more and more these days: I was watching television with my smartphone close at hand. Was I watching a specific TV show or was I reading what people were saying about the show on Twitter? The answer is probably not too surprising, and as a result, advertisers that used to spend their dollars solely on TV are now including Twitter in their ad campaigns.

My recent experience started as simply visiting a Twitter account due to a search for a TV ad. But as I read some of the recent tweets, I read a question and replied.

I responded to the question and then focused my attention elsewhere. But lo and behold, there was someone managing the brand’s Twitter account in real time. A tweet appeared with a personal message to me. I smiled and responded…and another tweet appeared.

But it was the theme of the message that stuck with me, and continues to resonate. I was not a customer, but the team behind this brand and this Twitter account believed that a conversation with me was important and worth their time.

In today’s era of instant communication, business decisions can be made in a split second and sometimes not even for valid reasons. This is why it’s even more critical to interact with prospective customers at every possible opportunity, venue, and forum.

In the words of Shep Hyken, customer service expert and New York Times best-selling author (@Hyken on Twitter), “Many companies use social media as a way to respond to publicly-voiced customer complaints. But the best companies also use social media as a way to deliver value and engage in conversations. It’s about being a part of – and contributing to – a community.”

So, who does your business talk to in social media? Which networks do you use most often? Do you spend the same amount of time and effort to create positive brand experiences for people who don’t yet pay for your products or services? Do you train your customer service and sales teams how to interact with prospects when sales may not close? Do you have surveys to monitor why customers don’t renew or become repeat customers, and what do you do with the data obtained by those surveys?

In addition, in today's social era (also known as the era of instant communication), social networks (including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc) offer a real-time alternative to surveys because they are able to capture the pulse of your intended audience and peripheral or unintended audiences.

How you move forward with this data is up to your company, but if you fall on the mid-size spectrum, you can definitely modify your future product or service announcements, event news, and company direction if you listen to, and engage with, customers and prospects in the social space.

Use all of these questions to learn how to re-energize your business. And in the process, don’t forget to treat prospective customers as if they were VIP customers – because one day, they might be, and you want them to know why they should be enthusiastic advocates for your brand!

Where do you think I will go the next time I’m shopping for insurance?


To read more about how the marketing function is evolving, read “Marketing Can No Longer Rely on the Funnel” by Mark Bonchek and Cara France via Harvard Business Review:

Image Credits: Courtesy of Twitter 

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Why Brand Advocacy Is Closely Tied to Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is an objective of most businesses, but sadly, many lack the leadership capabilities and/or the human resources staff to implement strategies that result in long-term employee engagement. Recently, Mark Herbert and I discussed the importance of employee engagement and its impact on brand advocacy. Mark and I met back in 2011 as a result of our social media activities, and I was immediately impressed by Mark's insights gained by more than 30 years of experience as an HR executive, author, and management consultant in a variety of organizational settings ranging from entrepreneurial to Fortune 100. Currently, Mark is Principal for New Paradigms, a management consulting firm in Arizona that helps companies embrace change to engage their employees.

A company’s size shouldn't really affect how employee engagement is viewed, but the reality is, it does. For one-person operations, family businesses, and small businesses, employees wear multiple hats to keep the operation running. For large and multi-national businesses, there are policies and procedures to follow, legal and compliance regulations to adhere to, shareholder requirements to adhere to, and as a result, employee engagement is not the tip of the priority iceberg. But for mid-size businesses, the alignment of employee engagement and brand advocacy can make a significant impact on business success.

I credit Mark for one of my favorite leadership quotes that plays a large part in developing employee engagement: “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room…It requires you to block and tackle for others.” Highlights from our discussion follow below. 

QUESTION: How do you define employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: This is an excellent question as I think much of the debate around employee engagement stems from the fact we don’t have a common definition. In my opinion and approach, engagement is about alignment and commitment. An organization has a clearly articulated set of values and goals, and its talent management strategies (ranging from recruitment and selection to compensation and training) reinforce those values and goals.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that don't understand employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that delegate responsibility for engagement to their human resources department or who rely exclusively on an annual or semi-annual survey to define or measure engagement, they don’t get it.
* When I hear organizations refer to their employees as “human capital,” they don’t get it.
* When I see HR professionals indicate that the most important role they play in their organization is compliance with State and Federal regulations, they don’t get it.
* When I see organizations that don’t invest in training and development and who define engagement through tenure rather than performance, they don’t get it.

QUESTION: What are some characteristics that identify businesses that completely understand the value of employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: When I see organizations that talk about how they hire for aptitude and attitude and train for skill, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs talk about the importance of their culture and how recruitment, selection, and development reinforce alignment with that philosophy, they get it.
* When I hear C-level execs express personal ownership and commitment to an engagement culture, they get it.
* When you hear from Virgin, Starbucks, or Zappos talking about employee engagement, it isn’t their personnel department reps being quoted in the media.

QUESTION: Which businesses have implemented effective employment engagement strategies? Please provide examples of how these businesses accomplished this.
MARK HERBERT: Google spent a lot of time and energy investigating the characteristics that are represented in their best managers and embedded them in their leadership training and assessment. Zappos and Amazon also maintain a strict adherence to their cultures. Both offer financial landing packages to employees who don’t feel like they can, or want to, continue to be engaged with the corporate goals and values. These organizations have an employment brand that is deeply woven into the fabric of their business, and a commitment to the brand isn’t optional for anyone employed there.

QUESTION: How do a corporate culture and the onboarding process intersect with employee engagement?
MARK HERBERT: They don’t intersect, they are totally intertwined.
Check out this survey of 20,000 employees in which they described the 7 stages of disengagement:
* Number 7 - they didn’t trust senior leadership
* Number 6 - they felt they didn’t have appropriate work/life balance
* Number 5 - they felt devalued and unrecognized
* Number 4 - they didn’t see a clear career path
* Number 3 - they didn’t receive meaningful feedback and coaching
* Number 2 - they didn’t feel like they were a good fit with the job or organization
* Number 1 - they didn’t feel the job met their understanding or expectations of what they signed on for
Look specifically at numbers 1 and 2. This is a huge fail and a huge opportunity. Employees are essentially internal customers/stakeholders. C-level execs/leadership teams have to deliver on the brand promise to them just as they deliver on the brand promise to external customers.

QUESTION: How can a leader inspire his/her employees to become brand ambassadors?
MARK HERBERT: If you properly develop and consistently execute on an employment brand that begins with hiring, and selection is reinforced by your other talent management systems, you will build your brand rather than trying to bolt it on. It is a process and a journey that you never "arrive" at – it must be continuously reinforced and refined. When you hire and manage whole people, they come to work every day aligned with your brand. This can be translated to mean that they are invested in the outcome of what your business does and what it stands for. In short, employees become brand advocates or brand ambassadors.

QUESTION: What is the number one impact of engaged employees?
MARK HERBERT: There are several:
* It could be the 20% per capita productivity advantage
* The 147% earnings per share advantage that highly engaged organizations enjoy
* The retention advantage (engaged employees are 60% more likely to remain) when voluntary turnover is up 45%, and cost per hire is up 15% year to year
* The idea that in 2012, Gallup indicated that the level of employee engagement might be the most accurate predictor of long-term organizational performance and sustainability available to both internal management and investors
* The US economy could recoup and redeploy the $550 billion annually that the Department of Labor estimates we lose to disengagement

How much time and effort does your business allocate in creating engaged employees and turning them into brand ambassadors? Please chime in.

Check out my review of Mark's book, Managing Whole People, on my blog:

Read more on Mark's Blog: 

Connect on Twitter:

Check out my "Employee Engagement" Board on Pinterest:

Image Credit: stockimages via

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.